It was when 18-year-old Payal Shakya finally reached the summit at 5,000m and looked down at the Imja Glacier that she realised all the hard work was worth it. "I did it!" she shouted, "I feel like I am on top of the world."
Just two months earlier, she had already been to the top of the world when she was crowned Miss Nepal in Kathmandu. Now, as 'Conservation Ambassador' for the World Wildlife Fund for Nature Conservation (WWF), Payal went to see for herself how fragile the Himalayan environment is and why it needs to be protected.
At first, Payal admits she was nervous about climbing all the way to Island Peak, but she wanted to prove to herself that she could do it. "Beauty queens are usually considered brainless, but I wanted to show I was different," she says.
But Payal was beginning to feel the effects of altitude: a severe headache and nausea. She had pushed herself too hard to achieve her goal, and now she took the advice of the Sherpas and immediately descended down to Dingboche.
Payal has come a long way from winning the Little Lady Pageant in 1993 to becoming Miss Nepal, and behind the frail exterior she is a determined young woman out to prove that women can achieve anything they set their sights on. WWF is working with Payal to raise awareness about global warming and its effect on Himalayan snow cover.
"We pay so little attention to climate change and global warming, but now I realise it is very relevant to all of us," says Payal, "and there is nothing like being here to see how fast the glaciers are receding."
As soon as she returns to Kathmandu this week, Payal will begin preparations for participating in the Miss World pageant in China in November. She hopes someone in the jury there will ask her about global warming, and adds laughing: "I have become an expert on climate change."